Greater Manchester will be moved into the highest tier of coronavirus restrictions from midnight on Thursday, Boris Johnson has confirmed, as he refused to say whether a £60m offer of support for the region remains on the table following failed negotiations.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, the prime minister did not specify how much support the region would get. Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, had sought £90m in support for businesses and staff affected by the measures, dropping the request to £65m, but ministers offered £60m and eventually ended the talks without a deal.
Johnson said only that Greater Manchester would receive £22m, but this is believed to be for extra local test-and-trace measures. It is understood that talks will continue over the extra support amid reports No 10 might now reduce the £60m offer.
“Over the last 10 days we tried to get a joint approach with local leaders in Greater Manchester,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, agreement wasn’t reached. I do regret this. As I said last week, it would have been better, and we would have a better chance of defeating the virus if we work together.”
He said the government had made a “generous and extensive offer to support Manchester’s businesses”, calling this proportionate to amounts given to Merseyside and Lancashire, the two regions already under tier 3 restrictions, under which pubs, bars and other businesses must close.
“The mayor didn’t accept this unfortunately,” Johnson said. “And given the public health situation, I must now proceed with moving Greater Manchester to the very high alert level [tier 3]. Not to act would put Manchester’s NHS and the lives of many of Manchester’s residents at risk.”
Before Johnson spoke, the deputy chief medical officer for England, Jonathan Van-Tam, showed data slides illustrating a slight fall in new coronavirus case numbers among younger people, but a notable rise for older groups, particularly in the north-west of England.
It was the rise in cases among the over-60s “that really worries us most”, Van-Tam said.
Earlier, the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, announced that talks with Greater Manchester had ended after several hours of fraught negotiations came down to a dispute over £5m in funding, or £1.78 for each resident.
At a press conference in Manchester afterwards, Burnham blamed the government for having “walked away” from negotiations, saying there had not been sufficient support offered to help local people amid the new restrictions.
Burnham said civic leaders were prepared to reduce their bid for financial support to £65m, which he called the “bare minimum to prevent a winter of real hardship”, but that the government would only go to £60m.